“Moo Do” has often been translated as “martial art”. This translation does not convey the rich philosophical roots of our art. The word “Moo” in Korean is based on the Chinese Character 武 and is generally translated as “martial” or “military” but the character also has the meaning of “action”. The character itself is made up of two separate characters “sword” or “spear and “to stop”, “to prohibit”, or “to till”.
The word “Do” is based on Do the Chinese character 道 representing the Tao. “Do” has a board range of meanings: a path or The Path, The Way, a road, direction, principle, truth, morality, reason and skill.
The definition of “Moo Do” is much richer than the usual translation of “martial art.” It is the Way to the skillful action necessary to prevent conflict or war. It is the Path to balance and harmony both within ourselves and the society in which we live. Moo Do also includes the concept of our art being a means to experiencing the Do.
MOO DO JASEH
Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan is a living art. We often refer to our art as “Philosophy in Action.” We experience, express, and live this philosophy through our Moo Do Jaseh.
Moo Do Jaseh is the attitude with which we approach our art. It is present in all aspects of our practice. It is apparent in simple things like how we care for our Do Bok and how we treat our Dojang. Our Moo Do Jaseh is both expressed and strengthened through gestures of respect like bowing and saluting the flat; gestures that bring a ceremonial nature to our daily practice.
Moo Do Jaseh originates in our Maum. In Soo Bahk Do, Maum is the fountain of all actions. By itself, the body does not know what to do. The Body is the “What” in the process. It relies on the Maum for direction.
The Maum needs to “breathe”. The Maum breathes through our Moo Do Jaseh in the process of Spiritual Breathing. In this process:
- Maum sends “instruction” to the physical body via the Breath and the Shi Sun (eyes). This is the Maum exhaling.
- The Mome or the physical body receives these instructions. This is the physical body inhaling.
- The Physical Body executes an action based on the instructions of the Maum. This is the physical body exhaling.
- The Maum receives the fruits of the action and enjoys the “Positive Ending”. This is the Spirit inhaling.
When the body responds to the Maum, it sets up a feedback loop that nourishes and enriches Maum. The Maum now has an opportunity to empty or fill as needed by the situation. By doing so, the Maum Jaseh will find balance. By participating in this continuous process of Shil and Huh, Filling and Emptying, the Maum becomes alert, enlivened and nourished. It is relaxed, yet responsive to what is required in any given moment.
Whether or not there is a “Positive Ending” depends on our Moo Do Jaseh. At the outset, Shim Kong, Nae Kong, and Weh Kong are separate. With proper Moo Do Jaesh, they unite and become one through Spiritual Breathing. When Spirit, Breath, and Body unite and are in perfect harmony, one experiences the Do.
CULTIVATING MOO DO JASEH
Maum is the original true “mind” or “spirit” that finds expression when the noise of the normal busy mind is quieted. Giving expression to the Maum through our Moo Do Jaseh relies on three important Moo Do concepts which we will discuss below:
- Complementary opposites
- Fullness and Emptiness
- “Duk” or the Path of Virtue
The Dance of Opposites
In Moo Do philosophy, the guiding principle is to act in accordance with Nature. This starts with an understanding of the concept of complementary opposites. The basic duality is expressed as Um and Yang. These forces are in an unceasing, ever changing interaction with each other, the one being the reason for the other. Why do we inhale? Because we exhale. Why is there Um? Because there is Yang. This is natural. This is the truth of the Do.
In our practice, these forces show up in many ways: Strength-Flexibility; Inhale-Exhale; Emptiness-Fullness; Tension-Relaxation. If they are not in harmony, our Maum Jaseh is disturbed. Out of balance, we experience pain and discomfort. In balance, we are comfortable and at peace.
Opposites necessarily engender a third principle that synthesizes or acts as an intermediary between them. Moo Do philosophy has many such important relationships. Heaven, Earth, with Man as the intermediary in the middle. Within the human being, the relationship is between Spirit/Soul (Shim Kong), Breath (Nae Kong/Ki Kong), and the Physical Body (Weh Kong), where Breath is the intermediary between Spirit and Body. In Korean thought, Spirit and Breath are often considered together under the term Maum.
Through our Moo Do Jaseh, we cultivate balance and harmony between Spirit and Body (between Maum and Mome).
Maum Jaseh is an attitude that cultivates true Yang Ki, strength that is balanced with humility, power that is balanced with wisdom. These can be illustrated with the trigrams for water and fire:
☵ Water is flexible on the outside; firm/strong on the inside
☲ Fire is strong on the outside, flexible and receptive on the inside
Maum and Moo Do Jaseh express themselves through an Indomitable Spirit. This Indomitable Spirit is another name for Shim Kong, representing consistent efforts to align with the Do. The Indomitable Spirit requires both strength and flexibility:
When people practice the Do…if they are always hard they will be impetuous and aggressive, excessively impatient, so their actions lack perseverance and their keenness will become blunted. On the other hand, if people are always soft, they will vacillate, fearful and ineffective, being too weak to succeed in their tasks. That softness is useless.
If people can be firm in decision and flexible in gradual application, neither hurrying nor lagging, neither aggressive nor weak, then hardness and softness balance each other; achieving balance and harmony, they will benefit wherever they go. If they study the Do in this way, eventually they will surely understand the Do; if they practice the Do in this way, eventually they will surely realize the Do. [Adapted from “The Taoist I Ching”, Cleary translation, p. 18]
Fullness and Emptiness
In order to cultivate one’s Moo Do Jaseh, it is important to let go of certain things. This is apparent in the concepts of Full and Empty in the Moo Do tradition. Western cultures often view the concept of Emptiness as a bad thing, as a negative. The idea is that we must keep on filling up, string for more, attaining more. But in the Moo Do philosophy, being Full or at the top means that there is only one way to go. Being Full carries a signal of danger, of caution, of the need to let go and regroup lest one fall abruptly.
Thousands of years ago, Lao Tzu wrote about excessive “Fullness” in the Tao Te Ching:
Contraction pulls at that which extends too much
Weakness pulls at that which strengthens too much
Ruin pulls at that which rises too high
Loss pulls at life when you fill it with too much stuff
Full and Empty are another aspect of Um and Yang. One must breath in so that one breathes out. You cannot have one without the other. When you are Empty, you breath in, take in, have space to learn and grow. When you are Full, you breathe out, let go, release. This is natural.
In order to give our Maum room to express itself, we must empty our cup. This is often expressed as “emptying the mind and filling the belly”.
Thus the sage rules by stilling minds and opening hearts by filling bellies and strengthening bones (Verse 3)
This refers to the process of emptying the normal busy mind and nourishing the “Mind of Do”.
“Emptying the mind and filling the belly” also refers to the process of Spiritual Breathing. We nourish Maum by emptying our mundane busy mind and “opening our hearts” to allow the breath of Maum to express itself. When the mind is quiet and the heart is open, the Spiritual Breath awakens to “Fill the belly and strengthen the bones” (nourish and support us).
Spiritual Breathing is a constant filling and emptying. Shil-Huh. Filling-Emptying. Shil, or filling, is a function of Um. Through Shil, we fill our bellies with the Spiritual Breath. We empty through Huh. Um sets up the process. How much we fill up (Um) determines the amount of Yang Ki we will have available.
Refining this process over time–emptying that which no longer serves us, filling our bellies with the Mind of Do, leads us to Duk or the Path of Virtue.
Duk: The Path of Virtue
The process of aligning oneself with the Do is called “Duk” (“Te” in Chinese). Doduk (or Tao Te” as in the Tao Te Ching), means the Way of Virtue or morality. This is the Path that leads to the ultimate unity of Do. The Tao Te Ching describes the relationship between Do and Duk:
Do gives all things life Duk gives them fulfillment….
Every creature honors Do and worships Duk not by force but through its own living and breathing.
Though Do gives life to all things Duk is what cultivates them
Duk is that magic power that raises and rears them completes and prepares them comforts and protects them
Everything unifies (Shim Kong, Nae Kong, and Weh Kong) through Duk. Duk is the “How” of our practice. How we set up our Moo Do Jaseh.
Live in accordance with the nature of things:
Build your house on solid ground
Keep your mind still
When giving, be kind
When speaking, be truthful
When ruling, be just
When working be one-pointed
When activing, remember–timing is everything
One who lives in accordance with nature
Does not go against the way of things
He moves in harmony with the present moment
Always knowing the truth of just what to do.
When our Moo Do Jaseh is guided by Duk, all aspects of our being become harmonious and unified. Through this unification we have an actual experience of the Do. It is through this unification that we develop the discrimination to determine exactly what is required at any given moment.
Moo Do Jaseh is an expression of how we approach our art, of our individual Moo Do values. When Moo Do Jaseh is set up properly at the beginning, in alignment with Maum, we prepare ourselves to experience and align with the Do. We do this through Duk, the Way of Virtue and the Spiritual Breath. Once we have emptied our cup and are receptive to the instructions of the Maum, Duk guides us toward the unification of Maum and Mome. That is the Do.
Written by Jang, Dae Kyu, Sa Bom Nim — TAC Shim Kong Bu
Posted at the request of the author.